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9 June 2011

Rowan Williams: the political world responds

David Cameron, Tony Blair and Boris Johnson give their views on the Archbishop's New Statesman leade

By George Eaton

Unsurprisingly, Downing Street has had something to say about Rowan Williams’s extraordinary New Statesman leader, in which he warned that “we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted.”

A No 10 spokesman responded thus to the Archbishop: “This government was elected to tackle the UK’s deep-rooted problems. Its clear policies on education, welfare, health and the economy are necessary to ensure we’re on the right track.” Which doesn’t even begin to rebut the charge that many of the policies now being implemented, most notably the NHS reforms and the increase in tuition fees, were not in either the Conservative or the Liberal Democrat manifestos. But Williams’s intervention has also been defended by figures from Tony Blair to Norman Tebbit.

Below are the responses in full, a list which we’ll update throughout the day.

David Cameron

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“I think the Archbishop of Canterbury should be entirely free to express political views. I’ve never been one to say that the Church has to fight shy of making political interventions. But what I would say is that I profoundly disagree with many of the views he has expressed. Particularly on issues like debt and on welfare and education.

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“I don’t think it’s good or right for people in our country if we give up on paying down our debts and just pass that down to our children. I don’t see anything good or even moral in that approach. I don’t think it’s good or right for us to pay people to stay on welfare, trapped in poverty, when we should be trying to get them a job. I don’t think that is good or right for people, or for our country. And also when it comes to education there’s nothing good or right allowing people to stay trapped in schools that often aren’t giving them a good education whereas the academy programme that we’re driving forward is raising standards and giving people hope for a better future.

“I’m absolutely convinced that our policies are about actually giving people a greater responsibility and a greater chance in their life and I will defend those very vigorously. But of course the Archbishop of Canterbury is quite free to make political points as he chooses and to engage in a debate. And I see also what he said about the Big Society. I would say the Big Society is an enormous opportunity. Not just for the Church of England but for all religious organisations and faith groups to try and make sure they do even more of the wonderful work they do to improve the condition of people in our society. So, by all means, let’s have a robust debate but I can tell you, it will always be a two-sided debate.”

Vince Cable

“The two parties of the coalition got substantially more than half the total vote at the last election and the public knew that we were going to have to embark on very difficult changes, connected with sorting out the massive budget deficit problem.

The point which he seemed to be making was that there wasn’t enough debate around health reform, for example, which I don’t understand because there’s a very big debate. My party has triggered it, we’re having a pause, rethinking the reforms. So he’s obviously had his views and it’s welcome that he pitches into political debate but I think he’s actually wrong on the specifics.”

Boris Johnson

If the Archbishop wants more volunteering, philanthropy & a stronger society he should sign up to @TeamLDN

Tony Blair

“I seem to remember, going back to when I started in parliament in 1983, that bishops attacking government is a pretty recurrent headline”.

“He is entitled to speak his mind. I remember people used to criticise our policies, not just on foreign policy and Iraq but on domestic policy and reform as well. It is just part of the way things work. I should imagine the government will say they are relaxed about it, and just get on with the things they want to do.”

Norman Tebbit

“No one would dispute the right of the archbishop to make comments of a political kind in this area – it is part of his job, I think, to do so – and he is quite right that there are policies of the coalition for which nobody seemed to vote and policies for which people voted which are not being carried forward by the coalition, but that is the problem of coalition.”

Conservative MP Matthew Hancock

“This is one member of the Anglican church. When I go to my church in Suffolk there are people of all political persuasions, so I think we’re talking about the views of one man, rather than representing the Anglican church.”

Conservative MP Gary Streeter

“I think the people are with us on this and the archbishop, sadly and unusually for him, has ill-judged his attack. I would just guess that most people would be slightly baffled by the archbishop’s comments.”

Conservative MP Roger Gale

“For him, as an unelected member of the upper house and as an appointed and unelected primate, to criticise the coalition government as undemocratic and not elected to carry through its programme is unacceptable. Dr Williams clearly does not understand the democratic process. If he did, he would appreciate that elected members of the House of Commons are not mandated.

We are sent to Westminster by our constituents to face and address the situation as we find it, to use our brains and to endeavour to act and to legislate in the best interests of those that we represent.”